You’ve probably noticed that sort of antiquing effect of using a V instead of a U in typesetting. It’s sort of analogous to those “Ye Olde Tea-Shoppe” signs.

Here’s a pretty extravagant example from an early Culver City studio sign. The underlined O is another antiquing device harking back to medieval scribal practice. Did early Hollywood feel the need for a tradition-boost? I guess so. It was a new business, seeking legitimacy. MGM used the same V in their old sign too — see Letterspacing 2.

The reason it has this antiquing effect is that it actually is antique. It wasn’t until 1629 (or maybe it was 1619) that capital U became an accepted letter when Lazare Zetzner started using it in his print shop in Strasbourg. Zetner also introduced cap J, but that’s another story. See Job case for confirmatory evidence and evidence of the dogged adherence by the print industry to the way-we’ve-always-done-things philosophy. (Louis Elzévier of Leiden is credited with the introduction of the distinction between lower case i and j and u and v in 1518.) They needed introducing because Latin had had no place in its alphabet for j or u, so neither did the early printers.* Scribes had actually evolved a system of distinguishing between u and v, treating them differently at the start of a word and in the middle. V stayed the form used at the beginning by printers — thus the long-term absence of such a sort in printing houses.


* As they had no u early printers obviously didn’t have a double-u either, w, which they would make up by putting two v-s together — v-s in their role as u-s of course, which is why we, unlike the more logical French, thus name the character.
















The Boston printer of this 1693 book obviously had Ws in his Roman and Italic fonts, but not in his black letter typeface where two elaborate V-s are deployed in the word Witches — showing that readers were still somewhat used to the convention. Actually I suppose they might really be Us, mightn’t they? This showing of the typeface Old English suggests that it may in fact have been the old English V which was added later, with the U shown here jumping from sounding as both V and U to just U.

See also Why n, m not v, w? which has a movie poster featuring VV in place of W.